Opinion | UI COVID-19 policy will work only if there is a way to enforce it

If we want to have a normal semester, we need to make sure we have ways to enforce the new COVID-19 policy.


Katie Goodale/The Daily Iowan

The Old Capitol building is seen on March, 6, 2021.

Hannah Pinski, Opinions Editor

With the expectations of a return to a traditional semester, the University of Iowa’s new COVID-19 policy seeks to provide “a robust student experience typical of a Big 10 public research university.”

However, the reality is that we still have not reached a complete return to normalcy.

I’m not saying we need to go back to placing desks six feet apart and sitting in awkward Zoom break-out rooms on a computer screen. In fact, I’m excited to be able to play violin on stage and set foot in Kinnick Stadium again.

But if we want to have tailgating on Melrose Avenue and live performances at the Voxman Music Building, there needs to be measures put in place to make sure it is done in the safest way possible. The problem does not lie in the policy itself, but the lack of means to enforce it.

Across the country, hundreds of higher education institutions – such as Indiana University –announced they would require the COVID-19 vaccine for students and staff who return to campus.

What is the plan for Iowa’s three regent universities? To no surprise, they are encouraging, but not requiring, COVID-19 vaccinations. Specifically, Hawkeye students are being bribed with a Downtown Iowa City gift card should they choose to receive the full dosage.

If the UI is keeping vaccinations voluntary, there should be a concrete method to enforce the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for unvaccinated individuals, such as wearing a mask in a public setting. However, the UI’s current plan lacks that backbone.

According to UI COVID-19 policy, masks are not required in university buildings for those who are fully vaccinated. However, an instructor or staff member cannot require a student to wear a mask or ask about their vaccination status.

If faculty members cannot check a student’s vaccination status, then there is really nothing to stop an unvaccinated student from attending class without a mask.

By having limitations for faculty – making it nearly impossible to enforce the rules – the UI is basing much of their COVID-19 policy now on the honor system. Without an actual system in place to check who is following guidelines, there is no real incentive for students to follow the policy.

The spread of COVID-19 may have diminished, but it has not gone away. With the new Delta Variant spreading across the country, hospitalizations are trending upward in over two dozen states. According to the New York Times, most of the increase in cases are due to “localized outbreaks with low vaccination numbers.”

The good news is that as long as vaccination numbers are high, we are less likely to be at risk with the Delta Variant. The problem is that we do not have a way to know where our vaccination numbers lie within the UI community. So, if most of the student population ends up not getting vaccinated before returning to campus (and not wearing a mask), we may be in trouble.

It is also important to point out that the policy created by the UI, and what happens on campus, also spreads to the Iowa City community. We saw the impact the university had on cases in fall 2020, when the Johnson County Department of Public Health officials attributed the return of students to the spike of cases in the community.

It is irresponsible for the UI administration to have thousands of students return without having a system of checks in place to enforce guidelines that are needed to protect not just the faculty and student body, but also Iowa City.

The new UI COVID-19 policy is reasonable, but its lack of structure and limitations for faculty members make it almost impossible to enforce. If the UI refuses to find a way to administer guidelines, we might find ourselves back at square one and put the Iowa City community at risk.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.